There is this commercial where a mother tells her son that he cannot leave the dinner table before he finishes the plate of vegetables (broccoli) in front of him. You might have seen it. It is so funny because it shows the child aging dramatically, like the character Rip Van Winkle, while still sitting there in the same seat at the same table with the same plate of vegetables in front of him. Then, there is a voice that says, “There’s a better way…” and the child grabs a V8 fusion juice that appears on the counter. He drinks the juice without hesitation, and I imagine that the mother was happy about that. I love that commercial not only because it is hilarious, but because in about thirty seconds, it provides a basic breakdown of a more useful way to address problems in our lives.
The mother, with her threat of not being able to leave the table, was trying to forge a connection between her son and the vegetables. Because of her efforts to make him do something, he only became more determined in his efforts to not do it.We were to imagine that the mother continued to “nag” her son and he remained steadfast in his seat, still not eating the vegetables…
Now, we can understand how the mom’s behavior made sense. She was most likely concerned about her child getting the nutrients he needs to be healthy. However, her approach had positioned her as somewhat of an “enforcer” which brought about an oppositional position taken on by her son that might be seen, by some, as “rebellious.” That oppositional relationship could only beget more opposition, keeping both mom and son firmly entrenched in their positions with no change.
…until something different happened. That something different was the introduction of the V8 fusion juice. It is in a fun bottle, tastes great, and offers the nutritional benefits mom wants for her son. By offering this alternative, the mom was able to invite a different relationship between herself and her son as well as between her son and eating vegetables. He no longer had to hold tightly to his determination to sit in that seat forever, “rebelling” against mom and not eat the vegetables. The alternative had allowed him to relax his determination and to connect differently to both his mom, who could now be seen as more of a “facilitator” rather than an “enforcer”, and to eating vegetables. He was still consuming vegetables, (the connection mom wanted) but the way he was now able to do that was more comfortable for him (the connection son needed).
With the introduction of an alternative to eating vegetables in the boring, unattractive, usual way, mom was freed from being the enforcer and the son was freed from being the rebellious one. It was a win-win for them both.
Sometimes our approach is what needs changing, not the other person or people involved. When we can examine our own efforts, we may discover how our relationship to the problem keeps it firmly in place in our lives. We may realize that our ability to solve problems depends on us being able to make sense of the perspective of others so that room is created for us to connect more comfortably. We may realize that we are freed up from the grip of our differences, allowing them to exist without causing damage, or to fade into the background barely noticeable. There’s a better way…
*The relational ideas presented here are primarily informed by the work of Gregory Bateson and Douglas Flemons.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.